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Q&A : Captain Leads Lennox Through Tough Times

January 13, 1994|SAMANTHA DUNN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Deputies from Lennox station, the oldest and one of the more embattled in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, patrol from Marina del Rey inland to the Vermont Avenue area on the border of Watts. Last year in the Vermont area, one in every 30 of its 32,000 residents was assaulted. Lennox deputies make more than 600 arrests a month, handle more calls and are fired upon more than any others in the county--in 1992 they were shot at 26 times.

But lately Lennox station has not made headlines for its crime-fighting. It has been in the news for the conduct of its deputies: 25 were suspended for drinking beer at a predawn party in Alondra Park while they were supposed to be on reserve duty for the Calibasas-Malibu wildfire. One of the deputies fired his gun into the ground.

Station commander Capt. Jack Scully, who took his post in 1992, recently spoke with The Times about the station.

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Q: You've been in the Sheriff's Department for 30 years, and you specifically requested this area if the command post ever became available. Why?

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A: There's something special at this station. In the Vermont area, more than 60% of the people live below the poverty line. They deserve good service, and if you're poor and outside the loop you don't always get what everybody else gets. I like the people in this community; they appreciate what we can do for them. I get very few complaints, because I think we do a good job.

And, the deputies who work here are special. For the most part, these deputies drive an average of 75 miles one-way to work. They live a long ways away--in Palmdale, Lancaster, Riverside--because they're young and they can't afford housing. Then, after driving a long way to get here, they work in the oldest station with the highest crime rate. We have older equipment, we don't get everything we ask for because of budget problems, and because of budget problems there have been no promotions, no transfers. Yet, they don't complain.

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Q: The past couple of years have been tough for the Sheriff's Department, and for the Lennox station in particular, topped off by the Alondra Park incident. How has this affected the public's perception of how you do your job?

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A: With all the problems since Rodney King, police departments nationwide are feeling like they have taken a hell of a beating that they don't necessarily deserve. Our deputies feel it when they go home. In social contacts, other people look at them like, 'Do you all do what was done to Rodney King?' Then they worry about budget cuts, getting laid off. All those kinds of things affect morale.

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Q: After the Alondra Park incident was reported, the deputies admitted their guilt and took their suspensions without the expected appeals. How is that indicative of the ethic here, and what did you do to build it?

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A: We are trying to rebuild this station. It's had pretty good morale, but what we need to do now is take the Alondra Park incident as a positive and say, "OK, we did something stupid." We all screw up, but not all of us admit to it. Challenge TRW, challenge some other private institution where there is some kind of misconduct to see if everybody says, "Yeah, I screwed up. Where do I get in line for my punishment?" We tell the truth. That's the ethic we have here.

I punished them severely--most were suspended for 15 days and that is going to cost them a couple thousand dollars. The most severe discipline, for firing a gun into the ground, was for 30 days and that's going to cost him about $4,000.

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Q: No doubt some people would say that when an employee at TRW messes up at least he doesn't have a gun in his belt.

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A: I am not trying to lessen what they did. We have three plaques downstairs honoring the memory of three deputies who were killed in the line of duty. "What do your actions do," I asked them, "to their memory and to the things that others here try to do?" A few of the deputies involved were problem types, but the majority of them were--and are--very good deputies who have embarrassed themselves.

For the most part, in all my 30-plus years, Lennox station has always been known as the best, or one of the best, sheriff's stations. I think after the thing in the park, every one of us wants to restore that reputation. I tell the deputies that what that means for them is that sense of pride, that wherever they go they can say, "I work Lennox station." We have to re-establish that great reputation.

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Q: What can you do to build this? What's your command style?

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